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In This Section
pdf September/October 2006
e-mail June 30, 2006
e-mail April 28, 2006


Studying for the Midterms
Renewables in Action
Just Transition
Blue and Green in Ohio
Battle of Blair Mountain, Again
Unseating an Environmental Foe
Gaining Ground
America's Wild Legacy
Car Talk, Sierra Club Style
Sierra Club Insider
Who We Are:
Loyd Cortez
Christine Williamson
Erica Langenbahn


Sewage 101
States Take Lead on Mercury, Global Warming
I Want My MPG
Postcard from Puerto Rico
The Birdman of Baghdad
Advocate for Safe Weapons Disposal Honored
Stop I-3
Family Planning Key to Sustainable Future
Sierra Club Insider
Who We Are
Ken Smokoska
Larry and Vicki Patton
Claudia Hilligoss
Search for a Story
Back Issues

The Planet
Studying for the Midterms

by Tom Valtin

This summer and fall, thousands of Sierra Club volunteers and staff are taking the Club’s message to the streets to engage environmental voters and motivate them to get to the polls in November. The goal is to turn out hundreds of thousands of “occasional” environmental voters on Election Day.

In Pennsylvania, Club organizers Annie Leary and Jason Brady in Philadelphia and Rachel Martin and Randy Francisco in Pittsburgh are re-energizing the thousands of volunteers who walked neighborhoods and made phone calls two years ago. These volunteers knocked on more than 120,000 doors in 2004, and with interest running high in the races for U.S. Senate and governor this year, they are out again in force.

Club volunteers will try to contact thousands of voters eight times each—both over the phone, and in person at the door. They’re not trying to explicitly convince them to vote for Bob Casey over Rick Santorum for Senate, or Ed Rendell over Lynn Swann for governor. Rather, they’ll be talking about the candidates’ environmental records and encouraging people to vote.

The Club’s Philadelphia field office launched its 2006 Voter Education Campaign on Saturday, July 22. “We had torrential rain and thunderstorms,” reports Annie Leary, “and even so, 35 volunteers went door-to-door in the suburbs.” The Voter Education Campaign aims to reach 35,000 infrequent voters through phone, mail, and door-to-door efforts by November.

Knocking Around Town: Sierra Club interns Kelly Robinson and Liz Phinnie go door-to-door in Philadelphia to talk with voters.

Club canvassers will similarly be hitting the pavement and the phones in Washington State, where environmental champion Maria Cantwell (D) faces a challenge from Republican Mike McGavrick for U.S. Senate. In Northern California, where Representative Richard Pombo (R–Tracy) is seeking reelection, volunteers are contrasting his efforts to gut the Endangered Species Act and promote Arctic drilling with the views of challenger Jerry McNerney, a former energy consultant who has started a wind turbine company (see related story, "Unseating an Environmental Foe").

The Club’s environmental voter campaign is focusing on 11 sites in 9 states where races are especially critical—and winnable: Philadelphia/Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, Columbus/Cincinnati in Ohio, Richard Pombo’s district in California, and the states of Arkansas, Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, Rhode Island, and Washington.

The Sierra Club has two bedrock features that make it effective in a political season, says National Political Director Cathy Duvall: its reputation and its grassroots structure. “The Sierra Club is the most trusted environmental organization in the country,” she says. “Voters listen to its recommendations.”

The Club’s strategy for 2006, as in 2004, is to target registered voters who have demonstrated that they care about the environment but don’t always make it to the polls. But might not eight contacts annoy some voters? Inevitably, a few people will chafe, Duvall says, but research indicates that repeated contact makes people twice as likely to vote.

In addition to its voter education work, the Club is also endorsing candidates for local, state, and national office. And not just Democrats. This spring, the Club took serious heat in the progressive community when it endorsed Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island. But Jonathan Ela, chair of the Club’s national political committee, says the Club isn’t working to elect a Democratic majority; it’s working to elect a pro-environment majority.

“Even if it paid short-term dividends to adopt a partisan electoral strategy, it would be bad policy and hurt the Club in the long run,” Ela says. “We’re committed to supporting people on both sides of the aisle who’ve stood up for our issues.”

Besides, he points out, the Sierra Club isn’t a dictatorship, but a grassroots-run organization. Both the Rhode Island Chapter and the national political committee voted to endorse Chafee.

“Everyone here pretty much understood it was the right thing to do,” says Rhode Island Chapter Chair Alison Buckser. “Chafee’s Democratic opponent is an admirable person, but he’s not an environmentalist. We met with three candidates, and Chafee was best able to articulate why he cares about the environment. He took a tour of Alaska recently, and he was raving about seeing musk-ox dung! He had the passion and the background we were looking for.”

Buckser describes herself as a died-in-the-wool Democrat, but the endorsement decision was easy for her. “Chafee’s a proven environmental leader,” she says. “In the tough spots he’s really come through, especially on the Endangered Species Act and Arctic drilling. And then there’s the Sierra Club’s credibility. What does it say to other moderate Republicans—or Democrats, for that matter—if we don’t stand up for our friends?”

Photo by Annie Leary

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